Ladder Safety for Electrical Work

Fiberglass ladder set up for electrical work

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When working with electricity or an electrical circuit or equipment, ladder safety should be observed. There are many different types of ladders, and they are made of different materials. Metal ladders should never be used when dealing with electricity. Always choose a non-conductive ladder made of wood or fiberglass.

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    Ladder Safety Basics

    Step ladders are often used both for inside and outside electrical connections. Extension ladders allow the user to reach heights that step ladders cannot reach. Before climbing any ladder, some ladder safety basics should be considered. Level and secure footing, as well as securing ladders and locking safety arms, are essential. Overhead obstacles and a clear, debris-free area below and around the ladder base makes for a safe work area.

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    Lock the Ladder

    Ladders should always be opened fully and the locking arms locked into place before climbing the steps. This is true for both step ladders and extension ladders. On step ladders, they incorporate two locking arms, one on either side, that allow each ladder leg side to securely lock into place so that the ladder legs won't close back up. Extension ladders come in two sections. The bottom section has the feet, and the top section has plastic end caps or wings to secure it to the side of the building or pole. The top section also has two spring-loaded locking arms that attach to the rungs of the bottom section of the ladder. These arms lock the top section from sliding back down as you climb.

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    Level and Solid Ground for the Ladder Base

    Place a ladder on level working surfaces or level the area before attempting to climb the ladder. This ground should be solid ground. If adding dirt or gravel to level the surface, make sure it is compacted and solid. Sometimes the situation calls for blocking material to level the ladder base. Choose flat, solid boards or timbering as opposed to sticks or some other materials that could easily slide from the bottom of the ladder base.

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    Know the Climbing Limits

    Never climb on the top or the next to the last step of the ladder. Never put yourself in a position where you have to stretch to reach what you are working on. Get a taller ladder to complete the task and play it safe. Working with power tools can add to the dangers of standing on top of a ladder. If a drill bit sticks and jars you around, you may fall right off of the ladder. Ladders also become unstable when your full weight is atop the ladder causing the top to shift and in turn causing your feet to push the top of the ladder in one direction. This causes you to come tumbling down.

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    Look Around for Hidden Dangers Before Climbing a Ladder

    Beware hidden dangers like bare wires and obstacles that you may bump your head on while climbing the ladder. Many times there are electrical lines like overhead service lines in the area you are working. Not only that, but there could be pipes and other things sticking out of the ground that are dangers of injuring you if you fall from a ladder onto them. If at all possible, move these dangers before you begin.

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    Foot the Ladder Please

    Have a helper hold the ladder for support if at all possible. Having someone foot the ladder and hold the ladder from sliding is always a plus in safety when someone is going up for the first time. That way the ladder is secure for them to climb up and tie the ladder off. Also, remember to hold the ladder for the last one off of the roof. This allows him to untie the ladder and exit safely.

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    Choosing the Right Ladder

    Only choose ladders with the UL (Underwriter's Laboratory) seal. Ladders are made of one of three materials: wood, aluminum, or fiberglass. Aluminum ladders are dangerous around electricity because they conduct electricity, although it is the least likely to break down over years of use. Wooden ladders are not conductive to electricity, but they can rot when exposed to moist conditions over time. They are also heavier than aluminum or or fiberglass and they have a tendency to listen up and "walk" with you while you are on them. Fiberglass ladders offer the best choice for both long life and safety from electrical conductivity. The drawback is that fiberglass ladders are also the most expensive, but paying a little more for safety is well worth it.

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    Types of Ladders

    There are three basic portable ladder types:

    • Type I – Industrial: Heavy-duty with load capacity, not more than 250 pounds.
    • Type IA: Built for occupant loads up to 300 lbs.
    • Type 1AA: Extra-heavy duty for up to 350 lbs.
    • Type II – Commercial: Medium-duty with load capacity, not more than 225 pounds.
    • Type III – Household: Light-duty with a load capacity of 200 pounds.
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    Tie Off Ladders for Safety

    When using an extension ladder, tie off the top of the ladder if at all possible. This keeps the ladder from sliding off of the edge of the wall or roof. There's nothing worse than coming off of the roof onto an unsecured ladder and riding it to the ground with a large thump when you hit the ground! Simply place a nail or screw under a single or tie off to a solid structure on or next to a roof like an antenna or bracket. If climbing onto another surface, make sure the ladder extends at least three feet past the platform you're climbing onto.

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    Climbing and Standing on a Ladder Precautions

    Climbing and standing on a ladder may seem simple enough, but these tips should be followed to ensure safety.

    • Always face the ladder when climbing or descending.
    • Keep both feet on the ladder - never put one foot on a rung and the other foot on a different surface.
    • Do not climb higher than the second rung on stepladders or the third rung on straight or extension ladders.
    • Never stand on the top of the paint shelf of a stepladder.
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    Use Proper Ladder Angles

    Don't place an extension ladder's angle too steep or spanned too far away from the work area. Follow the ladder's recommended angle guides for ladder safety. Use the 1:4 ratio to ensure a stable working platform. Place the base of the ladder 1 foot away of whatever it leans against for every 4 feet of height to the point where the ladder contacts at the top.

    Too much angle puts pressure on the center of the ladder and often forces the bottom legs to press out away from the structure that you're working on. Not having enough angle on the ladder causes the ladder to be off center. As you climb, it's as if you're falling backward as you climb. When you reach the top, the gravity could pull you and the ladder from the roof.